The New Children’s Museum in downtown San Diego is a melding of local art with a hands-on approach that appeals to young children. Kids may not “get” the artistic emotion behind each of the exhibits, but that won’t matter. They’ll just have a fun time ping-ponging around the rooms, exploring and discovering! And yes, even learning along the way.

See how kids can "Think, Play and Create" at The New Children's Museum in San Diego California

New Children’s Museum in San Diego California – Photo Credit: Julie Bigboy/Day Trips Traveling Mom

New Children’s Museum in San Diego

The New Children’s Museum is three stories tall with activities for all ages throughout. Entry is on the middle floor and tall glass windows offer a view of the palm tree courts outside. Part of the beauty of The New Children’s Museum is that it is ever evolving. What was on display during one visit may change on your next visit. Keep that in mind while reading this review – what we saw might not be there when you go!

Exploration That Encourages

On our visit, one end of the main floor featured a climbing apparatus with a helix-like spiral and ropes for climbing. A rubber surface softens the landing in this area for any child who might fall down.

Motion detectors play sound effects from the speakers, meaning the more kids that are playing here, the louder and faster the “music” was. This was a popular area for my children, especially my rambunctious 3-year old. I was able to sit and watch him best figure out how to climb the twisting ladder. I appreciated the soft landing surface as I’m not a “helicopter” mom, preferring to step back and let my child work out and play on his own.

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See how kids can "Think, Play and Create" at The New Children's Museum in San Diego California

Climbing apparatus at San Diego’s The New Children’s Museum (Photo Credit: Julie Bigboy/Day Trips Traveling Mom)

The opposite end of this floor features a cafe with a lounge for dining, outdoor patio and a nursing area. Outside food is allowed but must be eaten in this lounge area. We brought in our own snacks and drinks and enjoyed them mid-day.

I was glad that the museum allowed in and out privileges as well as outside food. I dislike feeling “stuck” having to purchase from museum cafes, especially when on a budget. There is a meet n’ greet here daily with a live chicken – seriously!

A Museum That’s Hands On and Appealing for All Ages

The activities in the museum will satisfy a range of ages. I went to The New Children’s Museum with my two 11-year old children and my 3-year old son. Some of the activities they enjoyed doing together, like the climbing apparatus, the sand room and the chalk wall. Some activities they did together but held the older kid’s attention longer, like the clay sculpting.

Other activities were just for younger ones, like the made-over truck with a noise box inside or the tiny foot-powered wooden vehicles. Superhero drawing was geared for an older crowd. A soft-play area was only for under 4-years old.

See how kids can "Think, Play and Create" at The New Children's Museum in San Diego California

Building towers at the New Children’s Museum in San Diego (Photo Credit: Julie Bigboy/Day Trips Traveling Mom)

The Sandbox Gallery is nestled in a small, dimly lit space accented with the sound of waves. A “boardwalk” type walkway lines the room with benches and contains a soft sandpit in the center. Ditch shoes into the cubby at the door and be transported to the beach at night. Sand toys, buckets and brushes are available for quiet and relaxing sand play. My 3-year old and his 11-year old sister (who has autism) happily sifted sand and buried their feet.

Dress for a Mess

One corner outside on the large patio space is reserved for painting. Kids can paint plastic cacti and a covered wagon display, brushing on layers of pink paint. and sometimes reverting to just swirling the paint on with their hands.

On the other end of the patio is the clay studio. Children are encouraged to take a chunk of clay and some tools to work at the low table. Creations are set in the sun to dry.

See how kids can "Think, Play and Create" at The New Children's Museum in San Diego California

Creating with clay at San Diego’s The New Children’s Museum (Photo Credit: Julie Bigboy / Day Trips TravelingMom)

Fortunately with all this messy play there were lots of large sinks with soap and towels for washing up stationed all over the museum. I also appreciated that there were plenty of bathrooms in the museum, including family-sized bathrooms with diaper changing stations.

There are some serious messy play areas, like painting, chalk and clay. There are aprons available to borrow. But kids being kids, an apron is only going to do so much! Don’t wear fancy clothes and let the kids get messy and have fun. Also the space tends to get a little warm (especially on the upper floor) so dress lightly during hot weather. You can always catch a breeze outside on one of the patios if you get overly warm.

See how kids can "Think, Play and Create" at The New Children's Museum in San Diego California

Grab an apron, ditch your shoes and get messy at The New Children’s Museum! (Photo Credit: Julie Bigboy/Day Trips Traveling Mom)

From Quiet to Raucous Play

Downstairs at The New Children’s Museum is more of a quiet space. Filled with bookcases and sitting areas, families can grab a book and sit down for a rest. There is also a box filled with easy-on costumes and a mirror for dress-up fun. This would be a great place to park the stroller for a bit if you have a little one who needs to take a nap.

See how kids can "Think, Play and Create" at The New Children's Museum in San Diego California

The Wonder Sound art installation has 18,000 wooden shapes (Photo Credit: Julie Bigboy / Day Trips TravelingMom)

The very top of the museum hosts a variety of art installations. The Wonder Sound is currently in place. This beautiful and imaginative labyrinth of rooms is begging to be explored, with places to climb and hide.  Also here is The Rain House. Not any actual drops of rain (it is San Diego, after all!), but a playhouse of imagination that children could spend time in if it should rain. My older kids spent a good amount of time building towers with small planks of wood.

See how kids can "Think, Play and Create" at The New Children's Museum in San Diego California

Wobbleland is just for toddlers at the New Children’s Museum in San Diego – Photo Credit: Julie Bigboy/Day Trips Traveling Mom

My little one played in “Wobbleland,” an adorable area only for under 4 years. It appeared like the kids were in a giant stainless steel sink, complete with pouring water fountain and soft-play fruits and vegetables like the rocking-horse avocado and a sailboat watermelon.

Tips for Your Trip

We were at the museum within 30 minutes of opening on a Monday and it was already pretty busy. The crowd thinned as the afternoon went on as many of the museum members with toddlers left. I would recommend avoiding weekends if possible. Crowds tend to be heavy on Saturdays and Sundays . The second Sunday of each month admission is $1.00 each. The museum has limited seating space. I recommend wearing comfortable shoes because you’ll be standing a lot. Adults are encouraged to join in on the play with children when possible.

This is definitely not a rush-in and out place as kids will enjoy meandering and playing at their own pace. Set aside a few hours to spend at The New Children’s Museum and let them just relax, play and learn without a brisk timeline.

The New Children’s Museum is located in downtown San Diego, near Seaport Village, the San Diego Convention Center and Petco Park. Address is 200 West Island Ave., San Diego, CA 92101. Parking is $10 and located in a garage under the museum. There is also metered parking on the street. You can also take the trolley, as it stops quite close to the museum entrance.

See how kids can "Think, Play and Create" at The New Children's Museum in San Diego California